In mid-January, winter finally arrived here in Western New York, with ice, wind, snow, and breath-defying temperatures.
The ice made the bare tree branches glow with the prism of fractured colors on a sunny day. During that time, I returned to Columbus, Georgia, for trial for stepping through a hole in the Fort Benning fence.
I visited the Riverwalk along the Chattahoochee River for a few peaceful walks. The air was not frigid, as it was in Western New York, but it was cold.
I looked deep into the water, and saw that it flowed gently and seemingly endlessly. Ducks floated by on the surface of the water. I walked past patches of violas, those hardy plants that bloom brightly in temperatures that would kill other flowers. I bent down and photographed the plants.
It was during those quiet moments that I looked inward for the words that I would say in court to answer the question: why did I cross that fence for a third time? Why did I risk another six-month sentence in federal prison?
The ducks and violas had reminded me of the quiet joy of being alive. I was free to enjoy a peaceful walk along a river. Despite the cold and the bare trees, the experience was life-affirming. And affirming life is what led me to the Fort Benning fence. I was not there just to say no to torture and to assassination but to say yes to human rights and to life.
Originally, I chose to cross the Fort Benning fence as a means to express my horror that my language school classmate, Sister Dianna Ortiz, had been tortured by military who had been trained in their violent acts right here in the United States. I was horrified by what had happened to her. But she survived and is now the executive director of the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition International (TASSC International).
Many others who were tortured by U.S. trained military did not survive. Many of them disappeared without a trace. They had friends, too who can never have closure. I think of the mothers and the grandmothers (abuelas) of the disappeared who continue to stand with photographs of their loved ones in Plaza de Mayo in Argentina.
When I learned about the 1,000 Grandmothers group that Cathy Webster started for the Fort Benning protest, I thought about the ladies of the Plaza de Mayo. And so, I chose to cross again, to affirm life and to remember those who had died as a result of my government's policies. When I stepped through that hole in the Fort Benning fence, I carried with me a cross inscribed with a man's name. The Salvadoran man had been 105 years old when he was killed. I remember being shocked that someone who was old suffered such a violent death.
I was able to carry only one cross through that hole in the fence but, in my heart, I carried many others. I remembered the judicial anti-drug squad who had been massacred by the Farallones High Mountain Battalion of the Colombian Army's Third Brigade in May 2006. I remembered the eight members of the San Jose de Apartado Peace Community of Colombia who had been killed by members of the 17th brigade, led by SOA graduate Brigadier General Hector Jaime Rincon, in 2005.
I chose to make a stand for the human rights that had been denied to these individuals. I wanted to say that these folks' lives had meaning and that the world had not been made safer by their violent deaths. By crossing the fence, I used my body to say that I valued life and human rights more than my personal freedom. I talked about my motivations in court.
"I came to petition my government for a redress of grievances. I was welcomed by fences, barbed wire, no trespassing signs, and hordes of police. I was welcomed by the sight of no governmental official willing to listen to my concerns or to accept my petitions. I felt lost in a security state that I could not understand..."
"Hermanos, vienen de neustra gente estan matando a sus propios hermanos. cualquier orden a matar, ha de ser coforme a la ley de Dios, el caul dice, no maten!
Nadie tiene que obedecer ninguna orden que sea inmoral.
Es tiemo que obedezca a su conciencia y no las ordenes inmorales.
La Iglesia no pueda mantenerse en silenci antes dicha abominacion...
En el nobre de Dios, en el nombre del pueblo sufrido cuys gritos leegan cada dia mas fuerte al cielo, les pido, les ruego, les ordeno, para la represion!
"Brothers, you come from your own people. You are killing your own brothers. Any human order to kill must be subordinate to the law of God, which says, 'Thou shat not kill.' No soldier is obliged to obey an order contrary to the law of God. No one has to obey an immoral law. It is high time you obeyed your consciences rather than sinful orders. The church cannot remain silent before such an abomination... in the name of God, in the name of this suffering people whose cry rises to heaven more loudly each day, I implore you, I beg you, I order you: stop the repression."
After I finished, the prosecutor, Stuart Alcorn, asked Judge G. Mallon Faircloth to sentence me to six months in federal prison because this was "the third time that she's crossed in five years." Judge Faircloth agreed with the prosecution and he sentenced me to six months in prison.
At the end of my six month sentence, I will regain my freedom and will go home. I see it as a small sacrifice when I think of the friends and families of the disappeared, who may never know what happened to their loved ones and who have to live with that pain for the rest of their lives.
I will begin my six-month sentence on Wednesday, March 21, at the federal prison camp in Danbury, Connecticut.
Thank you for all of your support and for the work that you do to say yes to human rights and to life!